As soon as I pulled up to the building last Friday I knew there was a problem. Emergency vehicles surrounded the Rec Center where I work. It was a trick to find a parking space that didn’t block one of the trucks.
We have sheriff’s cars out front every now and then. Teenagers acting up. Someone trying to sneak in a back door. A random stolen bicycle. But we never have multiple ambulances, fire trucks and sheriff cars.
There was an energy in the building as I walked through the front door. Where usually I am greeted only by the front desk person I am there to replace, that day many of my managers were lingering about, mixed in with deputies and paramedics.
Not wanting to be problem, but knowing I’d need to know the situation if I were taking over the front desk, I finally got some information out of one of my bosses.
On Fridays we have many older people fill up our basketball gym, playing pickleball. It’s a popular sport here in Colorado and they rarely have low attendance. One of the players left his game and went to the sidelines, holding his chest.
Several friends came over and asked if he were okay. He assured them that he was. Said this happens every now and then. He even declined a chair to sit down in.
Then a friend who is a retired nurse walked over, took his hand, looked in his face, and yelled out, “Someone call 911!”
She saw what many of us would not see – the distinct signs of a heart that is failing.
The deputy who works at the high school next door to our building happened to be driving by when the call came in. Before our front desk guy had finished his call to 911, she was running through the front door.
When she got up to the basketball gym, the man had just collapsed.
Every person who works for our large Parks and Rec Department is required to take First Aid/CPR classes, every six months. From the director down to the part time janitors. Every single person. And this is why.
The first person to reach the fallen man was our head maintenance guy. Right behind him was a lifeguard, who heard the call from the pool. Together they started CPR. For what seemed like hours, but in reality was only a few minutes, they pumped away, keeping the blood flowing, until paramedics finally arrived. There was some delay as they figured out a way to get the ambulance to the back of the building, to avoid a large stair case inside. Maintenance Guy and Lifeguard kept pumping away.
Then the professionals took over. The other pickleball players surrounded them, making a stunned circle of witnesses.
I sometimes grumble under my breath about yet another CPR class. It always feels like we just had them, and suddenly it’s time again. Kneeling on the floor is always uncomfortable and pretending to wrap someone’s head in gauze is only fun when you’re a four year old playing doctor. Then I hear the stats - that a large percentage of people who receive CPR don’t make it anyway. It’s easy to feel like ‘why bother?’
I was cured of that attitude last Friday. Later in the evening we got an update. The man had a fully blocked artery. He was receiving treatment and would go home in the morning. Go home. Back to his life with his family. Able to celebrate Mother’s Day with his wife on Sunday. Because a couple of people knew how to pump that oxygenated blood to his heart, when his heart was not able.
As you’d expect, the staff was pretty shaken up the rest of the afternoon. The young lifeguard was found wandering the hallway, after she handed her job over to the paramedics. One of my supervisors asked her where she was going. “Back to the pool. My shift isn’t over.”
She was a bit dazed, not sure what to do next. After you’ve basically saved another human’s life, it’s hard to transition back to regular life. The supervisor gave her immediate permission to go home, for a paid afternoon off. She definitely earned it.
There was a meeting with all of the people who had been present, who had helped, who might need some emotional support. Our maintenance guy was as dazed as the lifeguard had been. When I was able to call him that evening, to tell him the incredible outcome, he just kept saying, “Thank you. Thank you for calling. That’s amazing. Thank you for calling.”
It was a humbling afternoon. I’ve spoken to many of the pickleball players who witnessed the incident. Most of them said, “It was scary. We all knew it could have been us.” One of those things that makes you consider mortality, and good health, and surrounding yourself with the people you love.
That notice will come around again soon. Times and dates for the next staff CPR classes will be emailed out to each department. I’ll have to double check my family calendar and find a time that fits on one of my days off. But this time around I won’t grumble
This time around I know that if I’m told that 90% of the people who receive CPR die anyway, I won’t think, ‘why bother?’ I’ll think of that man - that husband, dad, grandpa, and brother, who is alive today because someone knew CPR. He was spared brain damage, paralysis and death.
The ten percent is why we take the class. I’ll never forget that.